Early season goose hunting can be a struggle. Stale, local birds, a still-limited number of suitable fields for hunting, and heavy pressure from other hunters that, like you, have been chomping at the bit to get started shooting geese again.
This past weekend was one of the starkest examples of this that our group has had; just two geese fell over the course of a series of weekend hunts. High winds and tough field conditions had us flagging and calling to several groups, and some even looked like they’d commit, but at the end of it all they often just moved on to other areas.
So, with just two birds to work with, I took as much as I could off them. I went slow and methodical in the butchering, getting every last speck of breast meat for grilling or pastrami, the full tenders for a little pan-fried afternoon snack, the legs and thighs for a slow-cooked braise, and in a new adventure I pulled out two plump little goose hearts and after I trimmed the arterial scraps from the top of them, I found myself with two delectable looking morsels. One had a single pellet hole in it; proof of what brought that bird down from the sky.
If there had been more geese (and thus more hearts) I would have thought of something more elaborate, but for having just the pair of them I decided to make a quick little fry-up. The technique is simple enough and when I pulled the two hearts from the frying oil, I could tell I was going to like them. Speculatively I cut open the first heart, the panko-crust crackling like a potato chip, and I was not disappointed. It was cooked perfectly and after one taste I was addicted. I think I ate the second heart in one big bite. These are an absolute “must make again”.
Sure to be a hit with those who like deer, moose, elk, lamb, or beef heart, these go well with the cold beer of your choice.
1 cup of 1% milk
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 ½ tbsp cayenne pepper
1 cup of Japanese style (panko) breadcrumbs
½ tsp kosher salt
Peanut or vegetable oil (enough to fill a saucepan or fryer two inches deep)
6 Canada Goose hearts
1 large egg
An hour before cooking place the goose hearts in a bowl with the milk. Let soak for 30-45 minutes.
Remove hearts from the milk, rinse and then pat dry or place on a wire rack to air dry.
While the hearts are drying, heat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix the cayenne and flour in a small bowl.
Beat then egg in a separate bowl.
Add the panko to a third bowl. I added more cayenne to the panko, but that’s strictly optional and more an indication of my level of mental illness than anything else.
Roll the goose hearts in the flour and cayenne mixture, then dip them in the egg mixture, before tossing them and coating thoroughly with the panko crumbs. Set aside for a few minutes to let the breading dry.
Add the hearts to the hot oil, ensuring not to crowd too many in or the oil temperature will drop.
Fry for 6 minutes total, turning the hearts to ensure even cooking.
Remove and set on a plate with a paper towel to cool. Season with the kosher salt while still hot.
After 2-3 minutes they should be cool enough to eat.
I like the crispiness of panko breading, but I’d bet you a shiny dollar that if you dumped a mess of buffalo wing sauce over these they may not be as crunchy, but they’d be just as tasty.
Since the end of May, it’s been far too quiet around here. Those familiar responsibilities of family, work, and household duties never sleep, and like you, I have been working away through the sweltering dog days of summer all the while pining for cooler weather, soggy boots, and uncomfortable camp cots. My turkey vest, jacket, hat and other sundry items sat piled in the corner of my basement for weeks on end; occasionally I’d pass by them and scratch out a few notes on the box call, or blare out a barred owl greeting, if only to remember those spring mornings while giving the dog a bit of a scare.
But now the molt has passed and geese are flying again. As I drive the country roads in my area, I’m seeing flocks of juvies eagerly committing to fields without a second thought to any potential danger, and to be honest, I just can’t stand it. I want to be out there in the worst way; schlepping decoys, waving flags at birds as they trade beyond earshot, and racking spent shells out of my shotgun.
I’m fed up with silence. But now, noise is coming, and I for one could not be happier.
About three weeks ago I transferred my lanyard and calls into my vehicle, and I spend my time at red lights or in gridlock double-clucking and spit-noting my way through the drudgery. I put YouTube videos of seasoned professional goose callers and call-makers on the car stereo and “sing along”. I used to notice the sideways eyes that other drivers sometimes cast my way, but now I’m envisioning groups of geese swinging wide over cut grain and dropping their feet while our barrels rise to meet them.
Choke tubes have been swapped out of the 870, and the ammo box has been switched from medicine for birds with spurred legs to something for ones with webbed feet. Ultra-hard-hitting turkey loads that boom on spring mornings were replaced with blistering fast steel that will crackle like popcorn through the frost. The summer of scrimping and saving is now heading towards that heady time when I drop dollars on the stuff that really matters.
Worries about mosquitoes and ticks are waning for another year, and I’m looking forward to cold, chapped hands, stinging wind, and mud on my waders. There’s a simple joy to be found in stalking creekbeds and riverbends, waiting for the adrenalin-inducing explosion of whirring wings and the surprise “hissssssssss” of the wind riffling across the back of a silent mallard bombing the spread.
I’ve been out of practice with my insults over the summer too, and I’m rapidly trying to get my banter back up to snuff in advance of the barbs and jokes that will fly over beverages and too-much-food in our opening camp weekend. The parties sometimes reach fever pitch with the escalating voices and laughter of a dozen grown-ass men all cackling and arguing and hooting at once. In a jarring juxtaposition, I’m also ready to stand silently in the dark with some of my best friends while we wait for those first flights to filter in, the birds giving themselves away in the pre-dawn twilight with braying honks and whistling wings. If you have never heard the unspoken signal of shotguns loading in the dawn, that warning that legal light has arrived, then my friend you have not truly lived some of anticipation’s finest moments.
We’ll laugh, we’ll shout, and we’ll unload guns the loud way. This will all go until the freezers are full and the time to chase deer arrives. But from Labour Day until Halloween, things won’t be as quiet as they once were.
Competition is generally a good thing. It builds character, it drives improvement, and it fosters a strong work ethic.
This is, of course, the conventional definition of competition, which is not what I’m going to be talking about here.
Reports are starting to trickle in from friends and family, and overall it is looking like being another solid season of waterfowling for 2017. Things have been slow to ramp up, but that pattern has appeared in previous seasons with the action heating up as more crops are cut and cooler weather brings fresh migrators through.
But this year, unlike previous seasons, the reports from the field indicate that competition for access is going to be high, and I’ll expand on that topic in a few paragraphs.
I think back to my formative years when there was virtually no conflict at all when it came to access. Provided you had a decent relationship with the local landowner and you left the place better than you found it, there was simply no problem at all in getting into a good spot for a shoot. Almost every landowner we used to have access with asked little more of a hunter than simply closing a gate or parking in a certain spot on the property, and although some would gladly accept some wild game or labour in exchange for hunting permission, most did not even care for that.
Most were just happy to have someone shooting the geese off of their fields. But something has changed. Goose hunting is business for some now, and a few select outfitters have taken to leasing access from landowners (sometimes at premium rates) directly aimed at the exclusion of local, recreational waterfowlers from fields and areas they have traditionally accessed simply on goodwill.
It is tradition versus business, and tradition looks to be losing.
Five points are problematic here and I’ll briefly summarize them now. Hopefully these serve as some idea of what myself and other waterfowlers (call us amateur, recreational, local, legacy, or whatever else you want to label us with) are dealing with in relation to professional groups barring access through rental payments to landowners.
Since many do not have the means (through a prepaid client base) to pay up front for access, or to even pay for access at all, for non-professionals, there will be a direct loss of hunting opportunity. That such a situation is problematic when organizations like Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited are bemoaning low hunter recruitment and a loss of support for waterfowling is obvious.
A Dangerous Precedent
Related to point one, this could conceivably set a ‘pay to play’ precedent with local landowners, putting a once democratic pastime in the hands of a moneyed few, or in targeted business interests. In many areas of Canada, there is little ‘lease’ type of access in contrast to what is seen south of the border. Hunting leases have been targeted as one of many reasons for dwindling hunter participation in America, and it also creates competitive crowding on public lands.
It is not difficult to see how the practice of paying for access at the prohibition of local hunters from their traditional fields and marshes could create conflict. Waterfowlers in particular seem more attached to the places they’ve hunted and the relationships they have cultivated with landowners. To reduce those traditions and relationships to merely commercial relationships will most certainly lead to a broader divide in the hunting community. Is an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ between outfitters and their paying clientele on one side, and what I’ll call non-professional hunters on the other really what we need in a time when the tradition is believed to be under attack from outside forces?
This is the scary part. Generations of waterfowlers, suddenly finding themselves on the ‘outside’ may lead some to give up altogether. Think I’m being alarmist? I’ve seen several examples both in the area I hunt and on countless forums, magazines, and in public interaction that lead me to believe many hunters will just say “To hell with it, then” and just stop chasing ducks and geese out of stubborn resentment. If this happens, and I really do believe it is underway in some places, who will buy the waterfowl stamps necessary for conservation, who will support DU and Delta, who will champion waterfowling to a non-hunting public, and most importantly, who will pass this timeless and incredible tradition to the next generation? I do not believe this is me using hyperbole.
For a long time, hunters and landowners worked cooperatively, in a non-commercial sense. Hunters would offer their labour in exchange for access. They would offer part of the harvest to any landowners interested in fresh goose meat or a plump mallard. They checked on the fields and popped into the marshes just to make sure things were on the up and up. In some places I’ve heard stories where hunter access has discouraged trespassing. In short, there was a sense of community between landowner and hunter. But with land ownership being centralized and held outside of the local communities, and with guide services exploiting their superior financial position relative to local hunters, how could good relations between landowners and local hunters as stewards of the land continue? If a guide service has the means to pay, and a landowner wants the money, far be it from me to think I could intervene in a meaningful way. But an outfitter visits a spot in season a few times, with paying clients from outside the area. They are there short-term and they are usually gone. A local that gives a damn about the land drives by it every day. But I imagine absentee landowners and outfitters care little for these long-term relationships. To say nothing of the anecdotal stories heard occasionally about guided hunting parties leaving gates open, litter behind, and the like; what kind of landowner relationships spring from that?
Now this could all be construed as just so much ‘bitching’, or a reluctance to ‘adapt’ and perhaps it is those things in a way. Local hunter in our jurisdiction, and it is possible that in other areas as well, do not have ready means to ‘rent’ access, and we cannot really control the price paid by outfitters and guide services to lock us out. But with access at a premium, and long-standing tradition of ‘amateur’ hunting in the area, the grievance is legitimate.
It also calls into question, ultimately, what the guide services and outfitters are truly interested in progressing. Is there a real concern about the long-term viability and participation in the tradition from the grassroots level, or is self-interest in business the lone driver in this push to exclude local participation from waterfowling? As I see it, paid access is a threat to the viability of the sport long-term, especially in areas where there is not a history of leased access.
I suppose the motivations of those doing the paying and those taking the money are ultimately unknowable answers, but I know where my best guess aligns.
We’ve all done it. We’ve made mistakes, and I’m not talking about the minor, piffling mistakes of a day-to-day life. I mean big mistakes; errors that cost you a deer, screw-ups that sent that whole flock of turkeys sprinting into the next county, or boneheaded blunders that flare ducks and geese at the last minute.
There are, in my mind, fundamentally two types of ways that hunters screw up. They either forget to do things that would lead to success, or they do things that prevent their success. In both psychology and philosophy there is a whole genre of debate about the same thing, called ‘errors of omission’ and ‘errors of commission’. I am neither psychologist nor philosopher, so I’ll leave the dialectics aside here and just fess up to things I’ve done on both sides of that particular ledger.
This always cathartic.
The constant hope is that you are alone when you commit these boners, so that you can just quietly berate and loathe yourself in solitude. Not always the case, though.
Two years ago, with my then six-year old son in the ditch next to me and four or five good friends in close proximity watching, I missed three layups on geese inside 15 yards. We had been having just a stunner of a morning. We had found a fresh-cut field and piles of willing geese; birds pitched in on almost every pass and we were beginning to make some solid stacks. A group of three spun hard at our calling and flagging, and as they bee-lined for the fakes, they slid ever so slightly to my left. It was obvious that those birds were going to all die together at the business end of my shotgun. I have always fantasized of making a true triple on a trio of decoying geese, and I like to think that my anticipation was the reason I balked hard on the birds. When I rose to shoot the birds still hadn’t made me and I whizzed my first volley over the head of the leading bird…a bird that should have been flaring and climbing. In panic I threw a wasted string of steel somewhere near the same bird, which was now obliging me by flaring hard and climbing rapidly, accompanied by the derisive laughter of my compatriots. The third blast was a true parting shot as the birds were making hasty exits and I ushered them along with a wayward hail of steel BBs. The lads down the ditch were roasting me loudly and thoroughly and I muttered a not so silent curse at myself. My son innocently asked why I missed and I tried to explain myself with a rueful grin on my face. Not my finest moment in the blind, although that evening and the next morning brought some redemption at least.
Sometimes you are alone, but people just have too many questions.
While walking into a tree stand a few years back in deer season I was obviously daydreaming or something and as I approached my ladder I was paying no real attention to my surroundings at all. I crested a small rise and heard a deer snort. Closely. Think inside thirty steps. I snapped my head up and saw a small buck standing broadside against a line of cedars. As I fumbled to throw my rifle to my shoulder he coiled and bounded for the safety of the thicket, while I blasted two cartridges at what I was certain was his front shoulder. After thirty minutes of searching, I found no blood, no hair, no dead deer. The radios we use when out party hunting were crackling with questions, and I passed it off as shots at a wayward coyote. Which way did the coyote come from, they asked. Which way did he go, they asked? Was he a big coyote? A dark one? Was he running fast or just loping along? Was it more than one coyote? How far were your shots? My tapestry of lies became untenable over time and I secretly confided in my cousin. He promptly told everyone, to my chagrin. Now it would seem that I cannot be trusted.
Sometimes you just screw up and just have to own it.
In two consecutive years I’ve missed two spring gobblers, and both times operator error lead to my hubris. I killed an absolute trophy piece of limestone ridge one year, instead of the handsome strutter giving me a full periscope of his head and neck behind it. Last year I blazed a pair of shots at a bird that I was convinced was a mere thirty steps away. On closer inspection he was much nearer to forty-five steps than thirty and I had cocked up an absolutely picture perfect opportunity for my cousin Luke and I to double up on a pair of Bruce Peninsula longbeards. I took that one out on myself particularly hard, almost renouncing my membership in the Tenth Legion on the spot…except we all know that would be an error as well.
I, of course, am not the only hunter who experiences flailing ineptitude. One of my favourite nights in deer camp, once the guns are away and the wine and whiskey flows freely, is hearing the camp elders, truly my heroes of deer hunting and men with countless deer under the belts, regale us all with the tales of their own hilarious failings, of their incomprehensible misses and gaffes, and for a while I don’t feel so crushingly inadequate…although that may have more to do with rye than with my reality.
Nevertheless, to err is truly human, and to miss is the mark of an experienced hunter, or so I’m told by people who really want to spare my fragile ego.